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How Did the US Win Gold in the Men’s and Women’s 4x400m Relays?


How Did the US Win Gold in the Men’s and Women’s 4x400m Relays? Only one word can describe the performance of Team USA on the last day of track and field action at the Tokyo Olympics. Originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest.


From start to finish, the U.S. men’s and women’s 4x400m relay teams outclassed the international competition, crossing the finish line so far ahead of the pack that the broadcast couldn’t keep up.

After an Olympic Games that began with shock and turmoil when poor exchanges took away medal opportunities from the U.S. 4x400m mixed relay and men’s 4x100m relay teams, the Americans prevailed in the end, literally running away with the final two races on Saturday.

It took heroic efforts from some of the U.S. track and field team’s brightest stars. Here’s how the U.S. track and field team developed a secret strategy to win gold on Saturday night in Tokyo in both relays.

Team USA saved its best runners for the women’s relay finals.

An athlete has a choice on whether to participate in a relay. The United States traditionally prioritizes individual events over relay events. The men’s and women’s 4x400m relay teams are historically dominant. The U.S. women have the most gold medals in the event in Olympic history (seven) and have not lost a 400m relay since 1996. That history likely inspired their best runners to join the relay, capping off what would be Allyson Felix’s last race, surpassing Carl Lewis as the most significant American track Olympian ever.

400m hurdles gold medalist Sydney McLaughlin, 2016 400m hurdles gold medalist Dalilah Muhammad and 800m gold medalist Athing Mu joined Felix on the relay team. McLaughlin started the race and handed the baton off to Felix, with Muhammad running the third leg and Mu anchoring.

Mu’s college coach explains why she was a perfect fit for the 4x400m

Mu ran a split of 48.34 seconds, the fastest on the relay team Saturday as the anchor leg. Texas A&M coach Pat Henry, who coached Mu as a student-athlete, said that while the 19-year-old claimed the first U.S. 800m gold medal in 53 years, she is still one of the best 400m runners in the world. “Going into the Olympic Games, she was the fastest 400m runner in the U.S.,” Henry said.

“This young lady can run both races, which was the smart thing to do. Let her run.” McLaughlin and Muhammad had already developed chemistry while competing at the 2019 Doha World Championships. Henry said that having familiarity and cohesiveness is essential to relay success.

“You see, those groups are together for long periods in other countries. And so, they develop an air of confidence about themselves. And we’re coming into a zone, and we may not have exchanged with that person, but once or twice. And that’s your full running blast, and you’re going out full blast. You know, that’s hard to get it together. So until we start training more together, it’s not going to happen.”

The U.S. men have also had their fair share of success in the 4x400m

Michael Cherry, Michael Norman, and Bryce Deadmon competed in the men’s 4x400m preliminary round. Adding 400m hurdles to silver medalist Rai Benjamin to anchor the team proved an excellent decision. The men finished with a season-best 2:55.70 time. The United States holds the men’s Olympic record for a 4x400m relay team. LaShawn Merritt, Angelo Taylor, David Neville, and Jeremy Warine finished the race in 2:55.39 seconds to win gold in 2008.

How does Team USA decide on the athletes for relays?

Relay teams usually send out their “B” team to run the preliminary heats and save their best runners for the final. The U.S. men’s 4x100m team implemented this strategy Thursday during the preliminary round, hoping the foursome of Trayvon Bromell, Fred Kerley, Ronnie Baker, and Craven Gillespie would be enough to qualify for the final.

But Thursday’s heat featured Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs, who won gold in the 100m, and Canada’s Andre De Grasse, who won gold in the 200m just several hours earlier. This prompted Carl Lewis, arguably the most outstanding male track athlete of all time, to respond on Twitter, stating that the team did everything wrong.

How does training together impact the success of a track relay?

It may have just been due to a lack of practice and cohesiveness at the Olympic level. But Henry believes the U.S. track and field team is so deep that the top athletes usually don’t get the same amount of time to practice with one another as they do at the collegiate level. He says that for things to change, there must be cohesiveness.

“The United States, we’re strapped a little bit different than many other countries, and it doesn’t have to be that way. But it has traditionally been this way. We’re not very demanding of the athletes who want to run on the relay occasionally,” Henry said.

“We don’t take the time to train and work out together. We’re just, you know, it’s a different scenario for our country. It’s not good, but it is why we’ve had to operate. And I think it’s going to make a change to develop some cohesiveness between the young men and women who will run on that one to make it smooth like other countries.”

Henry compared the blind track and field exchanges in the 4x100m to football:

“In the 4×100, it’s like a quarterback and wide receiver. Those two guys got a niche. They got it. They got to be on the same page at all times. And the 4×1 is the same. You can’t go out there and throw to that receiver one time expecting him to catch a ball.”

In a university setting, the relay runners have more time to get acclimated to one another. “We are together every day, OK? We’re in the same place every day for, you know, and for many of them years and years. So the acclimation to each other is not near where it is for the Olympic teams. So for my group, I know I’ve got a group of five, maybe six guys and ladies that we feel are people that can run on the relay.”

“And then as the year goes, we’ll kind of substitute people in and out, do a lot of rehearsals, and try to figure out who’s who is ready at the end for both. “Both genders are the same. So same with me. I plug in people during the year. See how people run first, like the second leg, how people run to a break,” Henry said.

“You know, there’s a lot of different aspects of it that make a difference. And who you run where makes a difference. So, yeah, you know, you got to know your personnel. And that’s the challenge.” The U.S. men’s and women’s 4x400m relay teams were indeed up for that challenge in Tokyo and will now return home to the States as heroes in one of the Olympics’ marquee events. This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the account in your web browser.


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